by Jim Erskine
Alzheimer's Disease is the most common cause of dementia in older Americans, affecting an estimated 8% to 15% of people over 65. In most cases, the disease is diagnosed by a physician only after family members observe signs of memory loss and impairment. However, there are also advance warning signals that point to potential Alzheimer's which can be detected months, or even years before clinical symptoms appear.
The five early warning signals to watch for are:
1) Unusual fingerprint patterns: Studies have shown that up to 75% of people who develop Alzheimer's have an abnormal number of "ulnar loop" patterns on their fingertips. Similar patterns are usually found on Down's Syndrome patients, suggesting that some people may have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's.
2) Loss of the sense of smell: The indivindual's ability to discern odors may greatly diminish a year or two before memory problems are apparent. They may be unable to identify common household
odors, such as flowers, chocolate or perfume.
3) Hearing Loss can also occur, usually without the individual being aware of it. Signs to watch for include turning up the TV too loud; avoiding use of the phone; missing out on conversations, etc.
4) Depression: Over 50% of all Alzheimer's patients exhibit unusual bouts of depression and lethargy, up to two years before memory problems are noticed.
5) Difficulties with visual perception: The individual may be unable to recall visual details about objects, or may not be able to follow maps or directions when driving.
The importance of early detection of potential Alzheimer's cannot be overstated. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more effective intervention and treatment will be -- allowing the individual to live a longer, healthier life.